Technology: The Rise of the Complete Solution for Home Automation

By Simon Buddle, HiddenWires. Home automation is of course the remit of the control system, the last bastion of the custom install world. We stand high upon its ramparts waving our programmers' wands and sneering down at Apple's HomeKit like the knights in the Monty Python film 'The Holy Grail' crying, "Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time!" [caption id="attachment_5975" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Taunting the Apple HomeKit won't make it go away.[/caption] Simple, intuitive and robust - that's how I liked to describe control systems and their operation to clients. Moreover it was absolutely the mantra used when developing the programming for the system. Control systems are worth nothing if they don't have these three key attributes. [caption id="attachment_5977" align="aligncenter" width="379"] According to Apple, HomeKit is a new framework for communicating with and controlling connected devices in a user's home. Apps can enable users to discover devices in their home and configure them, or you can create actions to control those devices. Users can group actions together and trigger them using Siri voice recognition.[/caption] More Control The world that we live in seems ever more complicated. The other day I watched a youth on TV who was advertising Xbox. He was having a conversation with the Xbox whilst instructing it to put the World Cup on in the corner of the screen and he was making a phone call, all at the same time. Apparently this is what is known as 'downtime'. It gave me a headache just watching him. Maybe we will see voice control come of age soon, but for now, I think Siri remains the girlfriend of the geeks. What is most certainly happening is that video is becoming more complex, higher bandwidth and people are expecting more and more from their television. Video is inextricably linked to the control system. It is also probably the single most important element of most customers' systems. Defining Control The control element of any system can broadly be broken down into three sections; input, process, output. Add feedback to this and we have the basics of the home automation system. In terms of input devices, the array of touchscreens available is huge, but most would agree that tablets pretty much rule the roost nowadays. The processing side has moved a long way since the days of the AMX Axcent2 with its 64k of memory, while the output, either as a control signal using IR, TCP/IP, RS232, or as an A/V content signal or other function, has morphed into a different beast today. [caption id="attachment_5978" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Back in the day, the AMX Axcent2 had 64k of memory.[/caption] Matrix switching of composite video to a line input on a TV in years past was relatively commonplace. Video switching today requires a broad depth of knowledge, from bandwidths, resolutions, EDID tables, HDCP, HDMI versions and on and on. As bandwidth increases so the need for fibre becomes a fundamental cabling requirement. The complexities involved in video switching now are such that there is real benefit in specifying control and video combined in one unit. The Crestron DM-RMC-4K-100-C and AMX DXLF-HDMIRX-MM-D video receivers do just that. Even lighting control is arguably more complex now with the advent LED, DALI and 0-10V. [caption id="attachment_5976" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Crestron DM-RMC-4K-100-C (left) and AMX DXLF-HDMIRX-MM-D (right) video receivers.[/caption] Programming A single, unified programming environment means one set of code to write. You will not need to learn another 232 or IP protocol in order to get your video matrix operational. Typically you will also be able to edit any of the video control signals (EDIDs) or resolutions directly within the main program. Signal switching happens at the same time as any resolution or EDID table changes, all from within the same unit, so the client won't have to wait a few seconds whilst the correct resolution is set. Perhaps more importantly, most of the code may well have been written by the manufacturer, which will reduce programming time and increase system reliability, and crucially, provide a single port of call for support. Hardware Having all outputs, video and control physically in the same box reduces installation time, cost to the client and fault finding. Finding space for one unit is always easier than for multiple separate ones, and manufacturers of all-in-one units have taken the time to understand how the products will be installed, thus ensuring that they will fit easily behind the latest screens. Most, if not all, head-end matrices now offer both control and video switching in a single-unit chassis. Indeed the control system as a hardware set is morphing into many other areas of the market - video is perhaps the most obvious, but there are several other examples. [caption id="attachment_5974" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Example of a Savant A/V switching system.[/caption] The Complete Solution Many control system companies now offer lighting, door entry, audio distribution and more. With systems becoming ever more complex, there is value in considering the use of a single manufacturer. Many would argue that the 'best of breed' approach - so long the staple diet of the custom install world - still gives the client the ultimate in quality and performance. This may still be true, but at what cost to your business and your customer? I've been there at the coal face, with an unhappy client who just wants to watch TV or have their music on for a dinner party. How much pain is enough? Is, for example, downgrading the whole system's HD video resolution to the lowest common denominator really the answer? In my experience, help is much easier to come by when a single name is in the frame. Conclusion AMX, Crestron, Control4, Savant and others all make comprehensive and well-supported product sets with software that enables proactive alerts and emails for product failures. A single, unified solution with one programming interface, one technical support line, one product set, and one company accountable to you and the customer, offers real cash benefits to both. It may not be to everyone's taste, but there is a lot to be said for using a single provider that can offer the complete solution. Simon Buddle is a systems integration consultant and installer. Simon is also a regular contributor to HiddenWires magazine and KNXtoday magazine, and the first winner of the CEDIA Region 1 Special Recognition Award. You are welcome to comment on this article. 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